Restaurant Review: The Tilbury, Datchworth
PUBLISHED: 11:47 22 December 2010 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013
The TV chef and former child actor Paul Bloxham talks to food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne about running a restaurant during a credit crunch
FOR a chef in the national media spotlight, Paul Bloxham is deceptively casual. His favoured outfit at his restaurant, The Tilbury in Datchworth, is T-shirt and jeans and the place itself matches him by being almost wilfully minimalist. The fast-talking former child actor, however, is far from casual when talking about his work or in his approach to it, as his success at his previous restaurant, The Cabinet at Reed, and his TV work demonstrate.
On the acting bit and the media career, he says, 'Running a restaurant is very similar because you are in front of people. But it has its downside - because of my background and TV presence, people see us sometimes as expensive. We're not. We're not cheap and we're not expensive. It just shows how media exposure can work against you because people get this perception.'
The truth is, he says, he does the TV work because it is escapism for him from his duties as a restaurant owner and chef. By all accounts this keeps him busy enough, but since he also confesses to being a workaholic, it doesn't seem to matter.
On the day we have lunch, he is concerned to get across his 'kiss' message, as in 'keep it simple, stupid'. It's not an original motto but in his case it supports his philosophy of taking simple ingredients and treating them properly, something he says will become even more important if restaurants are to survive the credit crunch.
'Chefs will have to go back to their roots, which is when they were supposed to learn the idea of simplicity anyway,' he says. 'The idea is to go back to using cheaper cuts and slow cooking. If you have the right training, it can be done.
'The other thing is to watch the market - pollock was a popular fish dish for a while but it's now more expensive than cod because everyone wants it. You get very short windows now. It only takes Gordon or Delia to mention it and up it goes.'
Keeping an eye on things is something Paul does well. Menu items at The Tilbury change daily as he and head chef Ben Crick assess what's available and what's not, with an eye to seasonal and local produce tempered by quality and price.
For lunch, Paul and Ben produce a sample of the day's offerings led by a plate of duck consisting of pastrami, spring roll with duck hash and a raspberry, mango and avocado salsa (9.50), a recipe discovered by Paul in America. The other starter, a terrine of ham hock with parsley, gherkins and sweet mustard pickle (6.50), similarly uses items left over from other dishes on the menu - very little at The Tilbury is wasted, another clue to how the place is run, though the dishes are in no sense less than delicious.
For mains, I am served with pan-fried Cornish hake fillet (15.50), which is simple enough, though it comes with a minestrone of summer vegetables and salsa verde, while Paul, keeping it simpler still, elects for beer battered haddock with mushy peas, home-made chips and tartare sauce (12.95).
It's all straightforward and satisfying, exactly what you would expect from a trip to the country on a summer's day. If I say there's nothing flashy about it, it's a fair bet Paul will take it as a compliment. He is obviously comfortable with what he does, saying he doesn't find it necessary to visit other restaurants. 'We concentrate on what we are doing,' he says. 'We don't worry about anybody else, we worry about ourselves.'
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Watton Road, Datchworth SG3 6TB